Privacy advocates want the legislature to address the use of facial recognition software

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The use of facial recognition software to fight crime hits the spotlight on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

Law enforcement says it’s helping get dangerous criminals off the streets, but advocates say the system needs to be held in check.

The Utah Department of Public Safety is putting facial recognition to use for active criminal cases.

Commissioner Jess Anderson says they are able to put a name to a face about 6.4% of the time.

While that’s low, he still considers it a success.

“Local agencies who have taken bank robbers off the street, who have taken homicide suspects off the street, who have identified all sorts of characters who are here doing bad things,” said Anderson.

They also use the system to check driver license and ID card applicants against existing photos.

One reason for that would be to keep someone with a DUI from trying to get a license under a new name.

While it may serve a good purpose, it also creates privacy concerns.

“All of our faces are being scanned on a daily basis by law enforcement without our consent, without our knowledge, that they are using software which is out of date provided by a company that is no longer in business and using technology which we know to be error-prone,” said Marina Lowe with the ACLU of Utah.

Her organization and other advocacy groups say the legislature needs to step in.

They are pushing for a bill to address those concerns.

“There’s no legal standard currently about when law enforcement can conduct a search, that’s a great area for the Utah Legislature to start, we can discuss the question of training, how to deal with bias in the system and ways to combat that,” said Lowe.

In the meantime, the ACLU is calling on DPS to push the pause button.

Commissioner Anderson admits there are legitimate concerns and he’s open to the conversation, but he stands by the integrity of the system.

“Would it be best to codify it and put some parameters around it in the legislative process? That’s a great option for us, and we’ll work together, and we’ll work on that to see if that is something we can do,” Anderson said.

Wednesday, the issue went before the Government Operations Interim Committee.

Advocates hope to have a bill ready to go for the upcoming legislative session.


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Glen Mills

Chief Political Correspondent

For this Beetdigger and Ute it’s an honor to be doing what he loves in his home state! Glen is an award-winning journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team in June 2013. You can catch him anchoring ABC4 News at 5 and 6, Monday through Friday. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent, keeping you up to date on issues that impact your life at the city, state and national level. His political reports run throughout the week, and he hosts Inside Utah Politics, Sunday mornings at 8. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...